Improving Life in the Gaza Strip, COGAT’s Daily Mission

Archive photo: IDF (Zahal) Spokesperson

As the Christmas holiday approaches as well as the closing of 2010, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories summarizes its many activities to improve the standard of living in the Gaza Strip and the Judea and Samaria region

Date: 15/12/2010, 8:09 PM     Author: Tamara Shavit

In preparation for the end of 2010, as the cold spreads through Israel this Christmas holiday, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories released a report on Tuesday (Dec. 14) covering, in detail, every activity in the Judea and Samaria region and the Gaza Strip. What’s going in? What’s going out? How much cooperation is there? All the answers are in this report.

Crossings of Gaza

“These days,” says Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, “250 trucks loaded with goods enter the Gaza Strip every day. Our aim today is to increase that number to 300. By the first half of 2011, we will reach 400 daily trucks. According to our calculations, these amounts of supplies will be enough to help stimulate the Gaza Strips’ economy.”

What these goods are is also a subject of interest. As of today, the main products entering the Gaza Strip include different metals, building materials for electrical appliances and ceramic parts. “We allow entry to anything that does not pose a threat,” said Maj. Gen. Dangot. “The problem, however, is with material that can be used for multiple purposes – material that can be used for good and terror. As far as these materials go, we are constantly searching for alternatives.”

That risk is not one to be dismissed. This past November, more than 20 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into Kerem Shalom, the main crossing for cargo into the Gaza Strip. “The rocket fired at Kerem Shalom is not a coincidence,” says Maj. Gen. Dangot. “Hamas purposely attacks these crossings. We continue our mission to support the residents of the Gaza Strip regardless. Our goal, first and foremost, is to protect ourselves; but we are responsible for transferring everything the residents of the Gaza Strip need. We will continue to take all the necessary steps to improve their quality of life alongside consideration for our own safety.”

Most of the foreign cargo that COGAT receives comes through the Port of Ashdod and is then driven inside. In response to claims made during the time of the Turkish flotilla, Maj. Gen. Dangot emphasized that, “It’s important to understand that there is no marine blockade on Gaza. The oceanic gate to the Strip always was and always will be the Port of Ashdod. Even today, every ship that requests to set its anchor in the port with a desire to transfer humanitarian aid to the Strip can do so. The only veto is against merchandise that can kill.”

Plans for the Future

Looking ahead, there are plethora concrete plans far from being one-sided. “We have partners in the Palestinian National Authority in the Gaza Strip, the latter having two aims. The first is coordination of the transfer of goods and the second, in the preparation for when it can take place, exporting goods from the Gaza Strip and reopening the Karni Crossing.”

Exporting from the Gaza Strip is happening, to a certain extent, even today. Strawberries and flowers have been internationally exported from the Strip for four years now. In the following weeks, however, a larger and more diverse scale of agricultural exports is expected to begin. In the first quarter of 2011, textile and furniture will gradually begin to be exported as well.

What about the Karni Crossing? As of today, the Karni Crossing is open twice a week. Unlike the Kerem Shalom Crossing, it is not a truck crossing but one for importing products through a hose like fuel, gas and cement to the Gaza Strip. “Since the Strip hasn’t been under Palestinian National Authority, the crossing has become more dangerous. Every activity that goes on must have many backup IDF (Zahal) forces so that those who serve in the crossing won’t get hurt. Therefore, I’ll say it very clearly, the Karni Crossing will not be fully functional while Hamas is in power. The adjustments that we have at Kerem Shalom Crossing allow us to compensate for that and even more. The amount of goods that is transferred there these days is greater than that which was going through when the Karni Crossing was fully functional.”

Improvements Inside

Alongside what goes in and out, there is a great deal of involvement in what happens inside. 78 projects on various matters are taking place in the heart of the Gaza Strip, organized in cooperation between Israel and the international community. 22 of the projects are in education, 16 are in sewer systems and water, 10 are in agriculture and 9 deal with medicine. Infrastructure, welfare and electricity are not far behind.

“The night of the flotilla, we had 14 projects in [Gaza]. Today we have done 64 projects and we plan to pass the three digit mark in the next few months. Many of the projects are done in coordination with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), mainly in the field of education; There is also an emphasis on medicine – as can be seen in the building of medical centers in the periphery and the renovation of existing medical centers in the more crowded areas. The numbers speak for themselves. We constantly see improvements in the economy. Everyday a new business opens in the Strip. Dozens of small businesses began working in the city in recent months.”

Until the medical upgrade is complete the solution comes in a different kind of export: sending patients to extensive treatments outside of the Strip. Four out of five requests for medical care outside of Gaza are permitted. As many as 14,000 people leave the Gaza Strip each year for treatment both in Israel and in the Judea and Samaria region.

Judea and Samaria, More Optimistic

The Judea and Samaria is a very different story, much more optimistic. “Everything regarding the Judea and Samaria region is done in complete cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel,” says Maj. Gen. Dangot. “Cooperation can be seen especially in matters of security. The IDF (Zahal) and the Palestinian security forces understand one another, from commanders and senior officers to policemen and soldiers. We respond to violence against Israelis and Palestinians as one. At the end of the day, it is a common interest between us.”

“In regard to projects and developing a higher standard of living, we continue to help Palestinians in areas A, B and C without deviation. Our main focuses in these areas are sewage and electricity systems. Everyone, in the end, is focusing on stimulating the economy. The improvements made in this field are tremendous. Everything that can be done to provide job opportunities for the local community is done.”

As far as the winter season, “Right now, we are preparing for Christmas. I am convinced it’ll pass smoothly. The recent Eid al-Adha holiday is an excellent example of how we alleviate difficulties on certain populations without endangering others. We removed barriers, opened roadways, and made the maximum effort still keeping in mind security issues. I have no doubt that anyone who wishes to pray will be able to do so.” Wishing all a happy holiday he added that, “According to rumors, I understand that the hotels in Beit Lechem have been booked for two months.”